Beguinages, Churches & Abbeys of Leuven (Flanders - Belgium)

On one fine weekend, I set off to Leuven from Brussels! With the IC train, this was just half an hour and we decided to do a day trip. 

Obviously any monument would open open by 9:30 or 10:00 AM, so we went a bit early to check out the Great Beguinage aka Groot Begijnhof, the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Leuven which is accessible 24 hrs! I got the ILuvLeuven pass which is a combo ticket of 4 different sites and usually such city cards would include a public transport as well, but here it didn’t! When I enquired I understood that the whole city is so tiny that from one end of the city to another is just a 30 mins walk! From the Leuven station I walked to the Great Beguinage. 

Groot Begijnhof is believed to have been founded in 1205 CE. So, a Beguinage is where the Beguines lived. So who were Beguines? They were not nuns, but almost nuns! They did not take religious vows or voluntary poverty but took chastity vows. The beguines could work and earn their livelihood and own property.

These women lived as a community in the outskirts of the town which was called the Beguinages! This concept was dismantled by the French Govt in 1795 and the last beguine who lived here died in 1988. The property is now under the Leuven University and the rooms have been restored and now being used as accommodation for students, visiting professors etc!

Within this property is the Saint John the Baptist Church (Sint Jan de doperkerk) as well. However like all the other churches in Leuven, this too was open from 1:30pm to 4:30pm and I did not get to visit the insides of the church!
Bang on the opposite side of the town is the Klein Begijnhof or the Small Beguinage, and this was the 2nd last place I visited for the day. As the name suggests, this is in a much smaller size than the Groot Begijnhof! This was first mentioned in 1272 CE. This is located around the St.Gertrude’s Church which again I missed coz by the time I reached here it was beyond 4:30pm! I did see it from the outside and its tower definitely needs a mention. It was built in 13th-15th C CE and the tower was built entirely of stone, incl spire without using iron pins! 
Major portions of this Small Beguinage was cleared in 1954CE to expand the Stella Artois Brewery! Today the remaining 30 Flemish styled traditional houses have been restored and sold to private individuals! Between these 2, we explored the whole town or Leuven including 3 churches of which one was the centrally located largest in Leuven - St.Peter’s Cathedral, about which I’ll write another post! The other 2 were St.Michael’s Church and Keizersberg Abbey. 
St.Michael’s church is located very close to the town centre. This is a Baroque styled church built in 1650-71. I did not have much here, coz I was here at about 2:50 pm and by 3:00pm was my guided tour in Town Hall. However I did just capture a quick glance of the church! This was built in 1650 for Jesuit College by Jesuit architect Willem Hesius, however only the façade today belongs to that era. The rest of the church was destroyed in 1944 and was entirely rebuilt! This façade is termed as the ‘altar outside the church’ and ‘one of the 7 wonders of Leuven’!  

Built with all Baroque elements incl round pillars, cross vaults etc, the wooden pulpit is a true example of Baroque influence made in 1666 CE! This was brought here from Brussels, while the original here was moved to Brussels in 1776. But what blew my mind were the confession boxes! I hadn’t seen something like this and didn’t even realize they were confession boxes! They belong to the 17th C CE!!!

The last place I visited in Leuven by about 5:00pm, was Keizerberg Abbey (By this time, my guy headed to Stella Artois Brewery which the preggers me, avoided)! I was dead tired by the time I reached here and I was in for a relaxing treat – live Gregorian Chant!!! The first time I heard medieval church music (again, live) was in Koekelberg Basilica when I didn’t even know what I was hearing! Next I heard it in a CD player in Greenwich Chapel, where I got to know the name of this, after which I heard so many of them online! Again for the 2nd time I got to hear it live, again in Belgium, here!!! There seems to be a revival and training happening for Gregorian Music in this country!!! 
Duke Henry I had built a fort on the hill here in 13th C CE. By 1782 CE the fort was demolished and by 1897 CE, the abbey was built here by the monks of Maredsous Abbey. In 1969, portions of the abbey were converted to accommodation for the university students (yes, everything in this city revolves around the university)!  The architecture of the church’s interiors looked like cellar for me! I didn’t explore the garden, coz by now, my legs were killing me!!!

P.S: Check out here to know what I wore to Leuven.

To Get There:
To Leuven: 30km from Brussels (intercity trains are available and takes about 25 mins).
All these sites are walkable from Leuven station & bus stand (located next to each other)

Opening Timings & Entry Ticket:
The Beguinages are open 24 hrs; 
St.Michael’s Church: 1:30pm to 4:00pm; 
Keizerberg Abbey: 9:00am to 11:30am & 2:00pm to 5:30pm.
Entry ticket: Free for all. 

P.S: I was invited by VisitLeuven to experience the city for review purposeshowever the opinions are my own and this post does not to advertise the product/service.

Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

20 comments:

  1. It might be a very small town. It what amazing architecture. There is nothing so ancient to visit here. It would be lovely to travel and see these sites one day.

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  2. What usually gets me to appreciate building structures in places like Belgium in Europe is their excellent craftsmanship for its engineering and architectural designs.

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  3. Amazing architectural designs. It is good to see an old structures like those. Awesome.

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  4. Look at that beauty all around. Anything got to do with Baroque elements and intricate detailing gets my attention. Cheers!!

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  5. I love old churches. They have so much history. I'm enjoying your travel posts :)

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  6. Wow such a small town within walking distance of 30mins!! Love this fact already. The architecture of the town literally takes us to 17th century despite being destroyed. You've captured thr beauty of the town & its architecture with such grace. Thanks for sharing!!

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  7. As always, your photos are simply stunning! I love the decor and details of the old buildings. I know that some people say they get burned out with all of the churches and cathedrals that they see around the world, but not me!

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  8. I've never heard of Leuven, but it looks like a good day trip from Brussels. I love the history surrounding the beguinages. That Baroque church is breathtaking!

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  9. What a beautiful small town, and pristine like such places in Europe tend to be. Nice info about the almost nuns!

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  10. I really like the carftmanship of the people of old Leuven. Though the city is old, its beauty lives forever in these monuments. At a point, I was beginning to get frustrated at the universities for converting these wonderful places to accommodation. The city is too much unexplored and thanks for bringing it the our awareness, it's on my bucket list. I'd love to have a visit.

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  11. So glad that I came across your post. I love small, quaint villages. Can't believe Leuven is a 30 mins walk. Are there still Beguines? Or are they a thing of the past?

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    1. Its a thing of the past! The last beguine who lived here died in 1988!

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  12. The Baroque style is so powerful I also find it romantic in a sense. Would you know if they allow pre-wedding photo shoots here?

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  13. Belgium is a truly beautiful place. I love all of the medieval and other grand architecture - and the villages are so picturesque. You've captured it beautifully!

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  14. I've never read a post about Leuven before! There's so much to see and learn for such a tiny little town. It's a shame you couldn't go into the church, I imagine it would have been so beautiful inside!

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  15. You can walk the entire city in just 30 mins? That's tiny but makes it easy to navigate and a perfect day trip. The Baroque styled church is so well maintained. I admire all the details!

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  16. Such a beautiful city. I love the design of buildings in Belgium. They are simply mesmerising. I had no idea that these ladies had taken chastity vows

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  17. This is really beautiful article. Very well written with all the important information and lovely pictures. Interesting to read about the Beguines. Didn't know such a community existed.

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  18. I just love how these structures are preserved. Thanks for sharing these! It is like I have gone there too! :-)

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  19. Love the architecture of these buildings. They are so amazing! Would like to visit and see it with my own eyes!

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